I can’t wear contacts while using the eye drops to treat my suspected case of pink eye, so I’m reduced to wearing my very outdated pair of glasses, with a prescription that’s at least eleven years old. I get new contacts every year because my vision keeps getting worse, but I haven’t bothered getting new glasses in years since I only wear them for a short amount of time in the morning and evening.
I’m reminded of the end of my fall semester studying abroad in Paris. I wasn’t feeling well, so I wore my glasses to school to take my final exams, because I intended to go directly home and back to bed afterwards. It was very strange walking the streets of Paris with blurred vision. Even more of a challenge was taking my art history exam, which included writing about paintings that were put up on the projector. The Impressionist paintings looked even more impressionistic under the circumstances.
The memory of taking that exam made me think of Monet, who painted the same bridge in his garden in different seasons of the year and of his life. As his eyesight declined, his portrayal of the same scenery got darker and more abstract. Seeing his masterpieces up-close changed the way I saw his artistic technique, and deepened my appreciation of the complexity within. The below poem is one I wrote after a personal encounter with his masterpieces while I was studying abroad in Paris.
Monet in Musée Marmatton
He let fog get in front of the train
heading for a blooming countryside
where a blurry couple with umbrellas
smear into a moving field
of wild flowers and tall grass.
They tell me he’s famous
for what the French call clair-obscur.
They’re wrong. I can tell
it’s more about colors. I’m sure
he liked reflections made
in something resembling water,
But he wasn’t always accurate—
unless that haystack’s reflection is
supposed to be a blood orange
volcano erupting in the distance
without the more traditional assistance
of its black counterparts.
He mixed colors on the canvas
instead of the palette,
put splashes of swatches
in places you wouldn’t expect at all.
He probably picked
an almost finished painting
and wiped his dirty brush on it.
Why else would he add such strands
and globs of violet, brown, maroon?
Now, if you removed them
you would have to change
billions of postcards, art books,
critiques, and art movements.
In many ways, the growing darkness and abstraction that marked Monet’s later works mirror the same effects sin has on the soul. Sinfulness clouds our vision of what is pure, holy, good, and true. It makes everything appear darker the deeper into it we sink. Each time we move further into the gray area, the slow-moving wisp of a nimbus cloud casts a shadow over a section of our soul, obscuring it from the light of the Son.
We may not even notice the shadow at first, or if we are aware of it, we downplay it’s significance. The spot isn’t that big or that dark, we rationalize. There’s still more light than dark areas.
Pretty soon a dense, dark cumulous cloud heavy with salty drops has formed. We’ve sailed to the bottom of sin’s slippery slope, and now the light shining through is only as big as the first spot of darkness once was.
We begin to crave the light. We come to the point at which we’re willing to wade back through the darkness, looking at it with new eyes, own up to what we’ve done, ask and receive the forgiveness which God’s been waiting to give us.
Lord, when our vision of light, love, and holiness becomes blurry or dark, please open our minds and hearts to Your spiritual cleansing, so that we may once again become beacons of light for others thrashing and crashing in the waves of life. Amen.